In the final scene of 1987’s The Lost Boys, divorced mother Lucy (played by Dianne Wiest) finds herself in a perilous situation. She has just discovered that Max, the mild-mannered video-store owner she’s been dating, is a monster. And I don’t mean that in the figurative sense. He’s literally a monster — a vampire to be precise.
To make matters worse, he’s not just some run of the mill vampire. He’s the head vampire — the patriarch of a group of teenaged vampires who he sees as his sons. As it turns out, his efforts to court Lucy throughout the film were part of a secret plan to integrate her and her own teenaged sons into one big family of the undead, forming what one character colorfully describes as “the blood-sucking Brady Bunch.”
But things didn’t go exactly as Max had hoped. To spare themselves from being turned into creatures of the night, Lucy’s sons (with some help) killed the teen vamps, compelling Max to finally reveal his true self and put forth one last-ditch effort to make Lucy his eternal bride. He grabs her youngest son, Sam (Corey Haim), and threatens to break his neck unless Lucy agrees to join him.
“Don’t fight, Lucy,” Max says as he extends his hand. “It’s so much better if you don’t fight.”
Sam pleads with his mother not to give in, but after a few seconds of thought, and no rescue in sight, she chooses to sacrifice herself to save her son’s life. She warily lowers her head and offers Max her hand.
I won’t give away what happens next, though I’m sure just about everyone has seen the movie (and if you haven’t, shame on you). Let’s just say that any “Okay Boomer” type thoughts the audience had throughout the film are suddenly sent packing.
Anyway, the scene carries with it some real-life relevance in the realm of today’s presidential politics. Both sides no longer seem all that interested in earning the support of voters. Each instead tries to scare the holy hell out of voters by portraying the electoral choice not as a contest of competing visions, but essentially as a matter of life and death.
If you want the country to live, vote for my candidate. If you want its neck broken, don’t.
How’s that for nuance?
That’s not to say that the choice isn’t a consequential one. It is on many levels. But presenting every election as a hostage situation, in which the very survival of the country is dangled in front of a desperate electorate, is unhealthy for representative democracy. It removes the burdens traditionally (and appropriately) carried by candidates and their campaigns, and places them directly on the shoulders of the voters. In other words, it effectively takes all considerations of a candidate’s fitness, record, and even ideas off the table. This is about survival, after all. Everything else is a luxury we simply can’t afford.
It’s a deeply disingenuous premise and it grossly exaggerates the power and authority of the presidency in our nation’s system of government. But it’s easy and often effective to just scare people. So that’s why it’s done.
Don’t get me wrong. There are things about our country and its future that voters absolutely should be scared about. One that immediately comes to mind is our national debt, which recently shot past $26 trillion. The size of our debt will, with 100% certainty, lead to a national catastrophe. But both parties have effectively abandoned the issues of limited government and fiscal conservatism, and a president can’t fix the problem on his own, even if he or she wanted to.
Instead, we hear about hypotheticals.
In 2012, when the economy was still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, Vice President (and current presumed Democratic presidential nominee) Joe Biden famously told an African American audience that the GOP presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan was going to put them “back in chains.” This was just days after a liberal group re-ran a controversial ad in swing-states depicting Ryan pushing an elderly woman in a wheel chair (portrayed as a Medicare recipient) off of a cliff… literally.
In 2016, the case from Trump supporters was that Hillary Clinton would flood the Supreme Court with liberal, abortion-without-restrictions justices that would change the fabric of our nation forever. Hillary Clinton supporters argued that Trump would not only destroy the U.S. economy, but probably even get us into a nuclear war.
Taking a step back, both Trump and Clinton were unapologetically corrupt individuals. Both were terrible candidates, and gave persuadable voters no reason to believe they’d become better, more dignified people once in office. But because the choice was a matter of life and death, they didn’t really even have to try and make that case.
The campaign slogans might as well have been, “Submit to me and how I do things, or suffer the consequences,” and, “Whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me.”
That second quote is a real one. It came from President Trump at a rally last year as he highlighted the strength of the economy, and declared that it will all come crashing to the ground if he isn’t re-elected.
Of course, the economy has since gone into recession. You can’t exactly pin that on Trump (the global pandemic would have found its way to America regardless of who was president), but one would think that the altered dynamics would effectively put an end to this notion that the fate of American prosperity sits squarely in the hands of a specific individual occupying the White House.
Even Obama, who made all kinds of mistakes on the U.S. economy during his tenure, managed to hand off a rather strong one to President Trump. Things got even better after Trump okayed the GOP tax bill put together by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Supporters (and the president himself) like to portray Trump is some kind of savior for the results, but the truth is that he stayed out of the legislative process almost entirely, his sole contribution being a promise to sign whatever Ryan and McConnell put on his desk. He certainly kept that promise, but who knows if he ever even bothered to read the bill.
Yet, the life and death stuff is again the popular narrative for this year’s election, which of course means we still can’t afford the consideration of the candidates having to earn our vote. We just need to suck it up and hand over our support to prevent the apocalypse. Newt Gingrich, a reliable Trump defender, wrote as much in a recent op-ed:
“Our choice in November will not be between President Trump and President Perfection. It will be between President Trump and a nightmare that would end America as we have known it.”
And to hit home his point, Newt added this:
“Expect virtually every significant Trump executive order to be repealed in the first 90 days. Every liberal think tank and activist group is building a list of executive orders to be repealed, and my guess is that Obama administration alumni who have drafted executive orders in the past would actually have the draft orders completed by a potential Biden inaugural.”
There’s an obvious problem with Newt’s logic. If the repeal of Trump’s executive orders signifies the end of America as we have known it, that’s a direct failure of the president himself for sidestepping Congress (doing much of it at a time when his party held majorities in both the House and Senate) and governing so often by executive fiat (which is purely a temporary measure).
In other words, the shallow nature of those “victories” is indicative of Trump’s lack of foresight, or perhaps his failure as the “master negotiator” he promised to be. But under the life and death narrative, his negligence is actually a perceived advantage because it portrays Trump as indispensable.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with these electoral doomsday ultimatums, and wish on them the same ultimate fate as the head vampire from The Lost Boys. If our country’s two major political parties are so incredibly weak that they can’t put forth minimally acceptable candidates who can make the case for themselves, and who don’t treat voters like objects of fearful desperation who have no real choice, my consent will not be theirs for the taking.
But I will consent to watching The Lost Boys again, maybe even this weekend. It really is a great flick.